Small businesses struggling to fill positions, as job numbers reflect

CFIB says its anyone’s guess when the problem sorts itself out

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Help’s wanted on jobs.

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The monthly snapshot Friday showed an improving employment picture, but many small businesses say it is still a major struggle to fill some positions.

“There are a lot of clients, but not a lot of hairstylists,” said Melissa Hellam, owner of Salon Goulart near Dundas and Ossington. “They’re all kind of doing their own thing from home.”

Hellam and her sister normally have capacity for up to eight hairstylists at their salon, which they’ve owned for 13 years. Now they are stuck at four.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the issue was “already brewing before COVID.”

Julie Kwiecinski of the CFIB said certain industries are experiencing hiring pain more than others.

She cited a shortage of auto technicians and skilled truck drivers, creating “more of an employees’ marketplace.”

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In their analysis of Friday’s job numbers — showing unemployment steadily falling — economists have noted shortages.

“Indeed, with strong growth in other industries, it increasingly looks like there may not be enough remaining ‘unemployed’ workers to fill positions in some of those hardest-hit industries,” wrote Nathan Janzen, senior economist with RBC Economics.

“Labour markets have still not fully recovered from the shock of 2020, but they are getting closer, and reports of labour shortages are not likely to dissipate any time soon.”

Sri Thanabalasingam, senior economist at TD, said restrictions in Alberta were partly to blame as “employment in accommodation and food services declined for the second straight month despite having an elevated number of vacancies.”

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The CFIB also said its members revealed in a survey in February 2020 they were already dealing with a labour woes.

That situation is now more acute.

“Only two-thirds of the unemployed who returned to work within 12 months returned to the same industry as their last job,” Kwiecinski said.

What she calls “upskilling” — employees acquiring new skills — has moved thousands of people out of areas like hospitality.

Some, permanently.

Combining that with the summer relaunch from COVID restrictions was, she said, “the green light to reopen — creating a bottleneck. Thousands of businesses were trying to hire at the same time from the same labour pool.”

That pool, Hellam has noticed, is much smaller.

“It has been one person after another,” she said. “Every salon owner is looking for staff.”

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